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Indie Tunes Apt for Ads You'd Hate

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
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That's Advertainment There is a frighteningly scary evil pervading this once-grand world: far worse than new Attorney General John Ashcroft, far more terrifying than "President" Bush's idea of a unified country, far more devious than PG&E's upper management. I'm talking about the post-collegiate, semihip kids who are corrupting music via their jobs at ad agencies. OK, you say, we've been over this before. Sure, it's a shame Volkswagen used British folkie Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" to hawk cars, but hey, the guy's dead anyway. And yeah, it was kind of funny that Nike coughed up the dough for Michael Jackson's -- I mean the Beatles' -- "Revolution," considering how little the song lyrics have to do with footwear. (The first thing I'm going to do when the shit comes down is choose between my cross trainers and my high tops.) But goddamn, this is a free-market, capitalist society. Go live in Russia if you don't like it -- they probably don't even have commercials there.

OK, maybe I got a little out of control there -- like the guys wearing their presidential ""W' is for "Winner'" T-shirts or the oil barons looking to drill some Alaskan baby seals so we can have two more hours of electricity. But, haven't you ever loved a band's record and gone to see the band live, then found yourself aghast at how badly the group looked, performed, or behaved? Suddenly, that warm, fuzzy feeling you had toward the group curdles, and you're left only with the unpleasant image. In the same way, songs and images become forever linked when a tune is used for a TV ad -- I can't hear Rick James' "Give It to Me Baby" without picturing greasy hamburgers.

Now the rate of appropriation has increased tenfold, and songs that have barely been recorded are showing up in commercials. That's because these sweet little indie music kids are growing older. They're taking the songs of cool bands they loved in college and using them to hook the new twentysomething demographic. They're sticking Minneapolis slocore trio Low in a Gap ad, Denver retro-jangle group Apples in Stereo in a JC Penny commercial, Chicago bossa lounge combo Sea and Cake alongside Ralph Lauren models, and local duo Mates of State on the Abercrombie & Fitch Web site.

Yes, the adorable, ultra-indie band Mates of State was recently featured side by side with pictures of well-chiseled guys and curvaceous dolls swooning in prefab sexual delirium. What gives?

Mike Webber, that's what. For a little over a year, Webber has been new media planner for Abercrombie & Fitch. That means he picks the bands that get highlighted on "A&F Music," a section of the site with downloadable MP3s, and "AFTV," a music and extreme sports interview segment. So why has he chosen small-fry indie bands like the Mates (and its fellow Omnibus Records bands, Shove and Electro Group) for the site?

"It's two things," Webber explains via phone from the company's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. "Typically, major labels don't want to play: They want Real Audio [samples]. Indies want and need promotion and are more than willing to do MP3s. Plus, it's what I like. We go for the college market and this is college music.

"Besides, if 200 or 300 kids download this song and then go buy the band's record, that's pretty nice."

Hmm, he's got a point there, even if it does smack of rationalization. The Mates of State got 2,000 downloads during the month the band's song was on the site, which is a decent amount of exposure considering it's a clothing site. (Another local group, Beulah, got around 4,000 hits when its segment ran on "AFTV.")

"A&F has been really cool," Omnibus owner Mark Kaiser says. "It's cool that indie bands are getting these opportunities without major label help like before -- that whole post-Nirvana, "We want to sign to a major and be rich ... oh wait, we got screwed' thing."

Well, if you can't beat 'em (to death), join 'em, I always say. In the spirit of free-market bipartisanship, I would like to suggest the following songs by local bands be used as jingles. Not only are these tunes "totally radical," but they actually have something thematically in common with their proposed products. First of all, Bobby Joe Ebola & the Children Macnuggits' rock tune "I Love Drugs" ("I love drugs and I love you/ But I love drugs much more than you") would be perfect for a medical marijuana store. And Lunchbox's garage-pop number "Wanna Reach You" could've been written with the S.F. Prosthetic-Orthotic Service in mind. For its part, Ford Motors should retire Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" and switch to Fabulous Disaster's punk anthem "Rich Bitches in Volvos Piss Me Off." And finally, for you old-time local music fans, Timco's "Gone" would serve well as the final message on any number of dot-com Web sites.

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Dan Strachota

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